Most Valuable Players, 1992

Tom Peters

It’s time for my Eighth Annual Most Valuable Player awards.

* Most Valuable Player (boss). Anita Roddick The Body Shop founder, takes this one going away. She questions the value of business schools, has never spent a dime on advertising, and believes passion, love and fun make the world of commerce go ’round. Along the way, in a mercilessly tough industry (cosmetics), she has created an exciting, 850-store enterprise—that does very well while doing lots of good, from sponsoring local entrepreneurial initiatives in the world’s most forlorn and forgotten spots to registering voters in the USA.

* Most Valuable Players (where it counts). Tom Strange and Joe Tilli are the Rapid Deployment Team at Titeflex, the Springfield, Mass., high-tech hose-making company. In just a few hours, by themselves and with panache, this Teamsters duo churns out complex, customized orders for the likes of Boeing. The task used to take months and a dozen different departments. These engineers-salespersons-manufacturers-relationship managers are “brainworkers” extraordinaire, as well as a heartening demonstration of the path to job salvation in the years ahead.

* Most Valuable Player (Hall of Fame). F.A. Hayek, 1974 Nobel laureate in economics, passed away in April. Free markets have never had such a vigorous, articulate and persistent champion. Nothing in recent times has influenced me more than Hayek’s last book, The Fatal Conceit (edited by W.W. Bartley III). The “fatal conceit” is the delusion that central planning can create wealth. (Corporate planners take note: What holds for the economy surely holds for the sizable corporation in topsy-turvy times.)

* Most Valuable Company (“Wow!” category). The microprocessor market is madness, and Intel has mastered madness. “Feisty $6 billion company” is normally an oxymoron; but not if Andy Grove is your CEO. One Wall Street analyst tagged the firm “the ultimate cannibal,” working on three generations of products at once, trying to forcefully dislodge today’s winners before an outsider does. Too bad former GM chairman Bob Stempel and Sears’ top dog (for now) Ed Brennan didn’t memorize the Gospel according to Grove.

* Most Valuable Company (transformation of the mundane). DeMar Co. of Clovis, Calif., is not just another plumbing and heating contractor. DuPont has mixed a special, glowing yellow paint for DeMar’s very spiffy trucks. Then there’s 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week service (with no extra charge for working the off hours), discounts for seniors guaranteed prices (if DeMar underestimates, it eats the difference). Service workers earn lavish incentives based on customer satisfaction ratings. Plumbers? Hell, no! These folks are household physicians with an unprecedented healing touch.

* Lotsa Nerve I. John Thompson is boss of Computer Sciences Corporation Europe ($200 million, annual revenue). To better serve his customers, Thompson abandoned the corporate center. Now “headquarters” is wherever he hangs his hat on a given day! Former headquarters experts have moved to various CSC local offices throughout Europe, living “wherever it makes sense” according to Thompson. This scheme is the best example I’ve found of the disembodied, flexible “network organization”/”learning organization” that management gurus are in such a swivet about. Bravo!

* Lotsa Nerve II. Unlike CSC Europe, Denmark’s Oticon world leader in hearing-aid manufacture, kept its headquarters—but gutted the building, erased staff distinctions and adopted a total-project orientation. Staffers’ only possession is their personal “cart,” which they take wherever their teammates have gathered to work on the current project—a task that the team leader has invented, and for which he or she has recruited mates. This mind-warping, ultimate floating crap game has paid big dividends, fast. Now, even Oticon’s factory is moving to copy the wild “spaghetti organization,” as President Lars Kolind calls it.

* Shake it up, baby. Bill Beazley is director of innovation in the information-systems operation at Banamex, Mexico’s top bank. His unrelenting efforts to instill fresh thinking have helped make the firm a pioneer in the application of information science. How? Call in the management gurus? Hardly. How about tapping astrologers, dream analyzers and archeologists? Just the ticket, says Beazley. Amen, I say.

* Book of the Year. Joline Godfrey’s Our Wildest Dreams: Women Entrepreneurs Making Money, Having Fun, Doing Good gets the nod. This was the year GM’s chairman got sacked. And also the year employment at the 5 million U.S. businesses owned by women shot past that of the entire Fortune 500. (Women-owned enterprises now comprise one-third of all of U.S. businesses, up from just 5 percent in 1972.) Godfrey marvelously captures the spirit—and travails of this rapidly growing segment of the American economy. If you want to see the future now, buy this book—and give it to your daughter.

Though the recession lingers, there’s plenty of good news out there. Thanks go to this year’s winners for showing us how to cope with, and enjoy, these zany times.

(C) 1992 TPG Communications.

All rights reserved